Planning a Safari in Tanzania

closeup of two zebras, one of the animals to look forward to seeing when planning a safari in TanzaniaGoing on safari is a lifelong dream for many, and Tanzania is a wonderful place to make it a reality. Being the home of the famous Serengeti National Park, there are countless safari operators in Tanzania catering to all budgets, styles and schedules. Many operators can help with bookings for any onward travel in the region, and some offer packages that include other destinations in Tanzania.

Safari operators

For our trip, my friends and I used Arusha-based Tropical Trails to create a customized but affordable trip combining lodges and tent camping. They will cater an itinerary and accommodations to your group’s preference. A list of other recommended operators categorized by budget has been compiled by the folks at African Safari Journals. Their site also includes other helpful information for planning a trip.

For a more neatly packaged, no-fuss solution, you can also book a full trip, including safari and any other trip segments, with a larger tour operator. Fellow travellers have said good things about Australia-based Intrepid Travel and Canadian company G Adventures for small group trips in Tanzania. These companies usually subcontract part or all of the in-country logistics, but they’ll link everything up smoothly for an efficient itinerary.

Cost and duration

For us, five days was the perfect amount of time on safari. It was enough to see more animals than we had dreamed of across multiple different parks and types of environments without getting tired of bouncing around in the jeep. For hardcore wildlife enthusiasts, a longer trip might be worthwhile.

wildebeest on the road viewed from a jeepSafaris can be expensive, but there are ways to keep the budget reasonable. If you’re willing to stick with mostly camping, travel by land between parks, and have a group of four people, you can probably do it for $1500 per person for a 4-day trip, including accommodation and meals. Add $200 per person for each additional day.

If you only have two people and want to stay in lodges all the way with an internal flight between some areas, you’ll pay at least twice as much, and possibly a lot more depending on the class of accommodations you choose. These estimates are for private trips with a vehicle and driver dedicated to your group. If you’re willing to share your experience with a larger group and take your game drives in larger bus-like vehicles, you might find cheaper options.

When to go

The best wildlife viewing is in the dry season – June to October. If you want to see the wildebeest migration, it happens during the first two  months of dry season – June and July.

Getting there

Most safaris start off in Arusha. The closest major airport is Kilimanjaro, a 45-minute drive from Arusha. Another option is to book your international flights to Nairobi, Kenya, and then arrange a land transfer for the six-hour drive from there. Similarly, Dar es Salaam is about eight hours from Arusha. Most safari operators are happy to help with transfers.

North Americans traveling to Tanzania require a tourist visa, which is easily obtained on arrival. The cost is currently $50 USD.

Beyond the safari: what else to see

Tanzania has much more to offer than just wildlife and the Serengeti. Here are some other sites and activities worth adding to your trip, depending on your interests and the amount of time you have:

Dar es Salaam

Get a feel for urban East Africa by spending a day or two in Tanzania’s capital. It has a picturesque seafront area and some good craft markets. The streets are lively and full of restaurants that reflect the city’s mix of influences from India and the Middle East as well as Africa.

Zanzibar

Fly to the spice island and spend a day exploring the maze of streets and alleys in Stone Town before moving out to a beach area for a few days of post-safari relaxation. It’s a 90 minute direct flight from Arusha; much quicker and hardly any more expensive than the alternative bus/ferry combination.

gorgeous deserted beach in Zanzibar in the morning sun

Mount Kilimanjaro

It’s right next door to Arusha, if you’re up for it. Allow at least six days, and up to nine for the climb. Rushing is not recommended, since there is some serious altitude involved. You’ll need to hook up with a reliable outfitter. The Marangu Hotel in Moshi comes recommended by a recently returned friend.

hkiers looking at green valley views from Irente viewpoint in the Usambara Mountains

The Usambara Mountains

For less strenuous hiking, amazing views, and a taste of small town life, take the hair-raising switchback mountain roads up to Lushoto and use it as a base for day hikes. If you’re fit and keen, you can also set out from town for multi-day treks staying at rest houses along the way. Book a guide through the Tourist Information Centre in town. There is no airport, so allow the better part of a day for travel in either direction by bus, and at least three days in the area to make it worthwhile, depending how much hiking you want to do.

Before you go

Check your government’s travel advisories for security and health information, such as this government site for Canadian travellers. Ensure your routine vaccinations are up to date, and talk to a doctor about whether you should get other vaccinations or prescription medications such as malaria pills.

Essential gear

Besides items you would normally take on any trip, I highly recommend packing the following:

  • A good camera with a powerful zoom lens. The typical smart phone camera just won’t cut it when you want to capture wildlife close-ups.
  • Binoculars. Your safari guide will have some, but probably not enough for everyone in the group.
  • Lightweight, neutral-coloured long-sleeved clothing and long pants. You don’t want to distract the animals with bright colours or allow mosquitoes and other pesky bugs to get at you.

Safari njema – have a good journey.

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